Tuesday, May 31, 2016

If We Walk in the Light

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 33:10-36:22
1 John 1:1-10
Psalm 144:1-8
 
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Focus Verses: 1 John 1:6-10
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Insight:
Seeing ourselves for who we are is an important part of seeing God for who he truly is. God is light; in him there is no darkness. Recognizing my sin and confessing it to God is essential to receiving and experiencing the grace of God's forgiveness and restoration. Not only is God faithful to forgive, he is able to purify and transform me. Confession and repentance make it possible to be reconciled to God and to walk in fellowship with others.

Response and Action:
I need to recognize my sin and ask God for forgiveness and healing. I cannot walk in fellowship with God and with others if I am blind to my own need for forgiveness. Closing myself off from forgiveness destroys my relationship with God and with others.

I will not be able to hear God's word of forgiveness for me unless I am willing to speak it with him. It is not simply a word to be heard; it is to be learned and spoken with him. Realizing I need to hear the word of forgiveness comes first. Truly hearing that word comes next. The irresistible impulse to speak it along with him naturally follows.

O God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Forgive me of the wrongs I have committed, and give me a heart that is ready, willing, and able to forgive those who have wronged me. Thank you for your faithfulness to heal and restore. Through the transforming grace and power of Christ, help me to be an agent of your faithfulness and grace. Help me to walk in the light, as Christ Jesus is in the light. Help me to walk in the light with others who are looking to you for healing and forgiveness. May our fellowship be a living testimony of your saving grace. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses
: Psalm 51:10-13
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Recommended Reading:
The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life
Chapter 11: Forgiveness
by Henri Nouwen

Monday, May 30, 2016

Failing to Trust God

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 30:12-33:9
2 Peter 3:1-18
Psalm 143:1-12
 
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Focus Verses: Isaiah 31:1; 33:2
31:1 - Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD. 33:2 - O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.

Insight:
Isaiah chides those who have turned from God and placed their trust in human strength. It's tempting to trust in military might, political power, or wealth, but none of those things are ultimately as reliable as God. It's even more tempting to trust in our own strength, smarts, and ability to scramble to get us through life.

The short prayer offered up in Isaiah 33:2 reveals the authentic way of faith. It's a wonderful prayer and reminder for all of us who see the fallacy of trusting in ourselves or anyone or anything else besides God. Only God can give us the strength to live with joy, endurance, and patience.

Response and Action:
I need to be very careful about where I place my trust. I am not smart enough or strong enough to navigate and manage my own life. The money, power, privilege, and promises the world has to offer me are never as stable or satisfying as they appear to be. I need to recognize that the strength and security I long for in life are only found in God. My faith needs to be fixed firmly upon Jesus. I can live with confidence only through Christ who gives me strength.

O God, you are my strength and my salvation. Every morning you hear my voice as I lay my requests before you. You listen to my cries for help. I wait upon you with confidence and fully expect that you will answer my prayers and strengthen me for life. I see that trusting in myself, or earthly strength, is like building my life on shifting sand. I will build my life upon the solid rock of faith in you. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Resources:
Isaiah: Trusting God in Trouble Times
by Howard Peskett

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Destructive Heresies

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 28:14-30:11
2 Peter 2:1-22
Psalm 142:1-7
 
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Focus Verses: 2 Peter 2:1-3
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Insight:
In the first chapter of this short letter, Peter says the testimony of the prophets and the apostles is trustworthy and inspired by God. In the second chapter he warns of false teachers who invent their stories and teachings. He says that false teachers are marked by: 1) their denial of God's sovereignty; 2) their shameful ways; and 3) their greed and exploitation of others.

Peter urged Christians to exercise discernment. Not everyone who claims to be teaching the truth of God is doing so. Followers of Jesus must be careful that they are not lead astray by so-called prophets and teachers. Truth stands up to questioning. Having faith does not mean being gullible. Well-placed faith looks for reasons to believe.

Response and Action:
I need to be careful about whom I listen to and whom I follow. I want to follow Jesus, so I will study the Scriptures carefully everyday. I will hold every teaching and story I hear up to the light of Christ's teaching and example. I will be on guard against every teaching that diminishes God or questions the lordship of Jesus. I will evaluate teachers and leaders with a critical mindset and watch out for any indicators of greed, exploitation, or other selfish motives.

O God, your word is sharper than a two edged sword -- able to cut through the attitudes and motives of the heart. Give me a growing love for your written word and the discipline to study and meditate upon it each day. Thank you for Jesus, the Living Word. Help me to follow him closely and to become so familiar with his words, his actions, and his life that I am able to clearly recognize and reject anything that runs contrary to his way. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 4:1
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Resources:
God Talk: Cautions for Those Who Hear God's Voice
by Ruth Tucker

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reading Schedule for May 29 - June 4


Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2015-16

Sunday, May 29 -
Isaiah 28:14-30:11 / 2Peter 2:1-22
/ Psalm 142:1-7

Monday, May 30 -
Isaiah 30:12-33:9
/ 2Peter 3:1-18 / Psalm 143:1-12

Tuesday, May 31  -
Isaiah 33:10-36:22
/ 1John 1:1-10 / Psalm 144:1-8

Wednesday, June 1  -
Isaiah 37:1-38:22
/ 1John 2:1-17 / Psalm 144:9-15

Thursday, June 2 -
Isaiah 39:1-41:16
/ 1John 2:18-3:6 / Psalm 145:1-7

Friday, June 3 -
Isaiah 41:17-43:13
/ 1John 3:7-24 / Psalm 145:8-13

Saturday, June 4-
Isaiah 43:14-45:10
/ 1John 4:1-21 / Psalm 145:14-21

A Light Shining in a Dark Place

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 25:1-28:13
2 Peter 1:1-21
Psalm 141:1-10
 
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Focus Verses: 2 Peter 1:19-21
19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Insight:
Peter stresses to his readers that the testimony of the Apostles was based on eyewitness experience, not clever stories they invented (v.16). They were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration and heard God's voice commend him (v.17-18).

What the prophets of old had spoken was now made certain through Christ Jesus. Prophecy and scripture, Peter says, are not merely ideas and interpretations that originate in the minds of men. Rather, Scripture is the result of men speaking from God, being moved and carried along by God's Spirit.

Response and Action:
I need to consider the claims of Scripture carefully. The idea that Scripture is nothing more than the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of humans runs contrary to what the Apostle Peter says here. I believe the Bible is reliable and inspired by God. I will read it and apply it to my life in the faith that it is from God, useful, and truthful.

O God, thank you for your written word. I will pay attention to it, as a light shining in the darkness. You word is a light for my path and a lamp to my feet. I seek you, Lord, with all my heart; don't let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Help me to receive your word so completely that my life becomes a reflection of your word and a testimony to your truth. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Resources:
Can I Trust the Bible?
by Darrell Bock

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Party's Over

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 22:1-24:23
1 Peter 4:7-5:14
Psalm 140:6-13
 
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Focus Verses: Isaiah 24:8-10
8 The gaiety of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. 9 No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer is bitter to its drinkers. 10 The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred.

Insight:
Pride and self-gratification are often at the root of sin. Prosperity is often a precursor to careless self-indulgence. Eventually the parties give way to pain, the drinking is overcome by the misery of a hangover, and the songs turn into crying. Judgment is a wake-up call that forces us to face reality. Life is not meant to be lived without God. We were not created to gratify ourselves or serve our selfish desires. Rebellion against God is fundamentally a refusal to recognize the truth.

Response and Action:
I need to recognize God as my maker an the rightful and worthy owner of my life. Self-gratification is not the path to fulfillment and wholeness. Instead, I want to humbly acknowledge Jesus as Lord and to live for him. Self-indulgence and pride are deceptive and result in emptiness and ruin. I want to trust God, acknowledge him in all my ways, and find direction and wholeness in the truth.

O God, show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth. Give me the humility and wisdom to live for you and to follow you. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.

 Spiritual Formation Verses: Romans 13:13-14
13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Resources:
Honest to God?
by Bill Hybels

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Long Life and Good Days

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 19:1-21:17
1 Peter 3:8-4:6
Psalm 140:1-5
 
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Focus Verses: 1 Peter 3:8-10
8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.

Insight:
Harmony, sympathy, brotherhood, compassion, and humility are hallmarks of faith. The way we interact and relate with others, whether friends or foes, is part of the calling and inheritance of those who follow Jesus. The words of our mouths give evidence of the depth and maturity of our spiritual formation. When our hearts are formed and motivated by the redemptive grace and peace of Christ, we will not return insult for insult or evil for evil.

Response and Action:
If I am truly following Christ, and allowing him to shape and guide my heart and mind, my attitudes and words should demonstrate it. I do not want bitter or unkind words to be my first response when I am offended, hurt, or insulted. I want my speech and attitudes to be driven and shaped by what Christ Jesus would have me say and think.

O God, by the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, transform my heart and mind. Unkind and mean words are too easily spoken when I face difficulties and offense in my own strength. I want you to shape and guide the attitudes of my heart, the thoughts of my mind, and the words of my mouth. Give me the wisdom and the will to surrender to you so fully that all my dealings with other people are rooted in the redemptive love of Jesus. It is in his gracious name that I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: James 3:9-12
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Resources:
The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others
by Scot McKnight

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Search Me, O God

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 15:1-18:7 
1 Peter 2:11-3:7
Psalm 139:17-24
 
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Focus Verses: Psalm 139:23-24
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Insight:
Psalm 139 is a beautiful song that we hear quoted frequently. The phrases "I'm fearfully and wonderfully made" (v. 14) and "where can I go from your Spirit" (v.7) and "before a word is on my tongue" (v. 4) and "Search me, O God" (v.23) get mentioned quite often. I never, however, hear anybody quote verses 19-22. There, we read the phrases, "If only you would slay the wicked" or "I have nothing but hate for them," and struggle with what to do with them.

Response and Action:
I suggest that we do the same thing David did with them. We should be honest about our anger and hate, we should give them up and place them in God's hands, and then humbly consider his wisdom and grace.

David begins this song (vv. 1-18) with awe and wonder at the knowledge of God. God knows everything. God’s knowledge is before and after all things. God is our maker and he knows us better than we know ourselves. God's thoughts are amazing and precious.

Next, David is honest about his own thoughts--thoughts like "God, why do you tolerate evil?" or "God, why don't you just get rid of everyone who opposes you?" (vv. 19-22). When we, like David, find ourselves thinking in those ways, we might just want to take a step back and consider where we would be if that were the way God thought.

Finally, like David (vv. 23-24), we should ask God to search our hearts and show us the ways our thoughts and attitudes are hurtful, or shortsighted, or motivated by fear and anxiety. We can then ask God to lead our hearts and thoughts into better and everlasting ways.

O God, your thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and your ways are higher than my ways. Help me to think more like you think. Make my heart more like yours. Replace my hate and frustration with grace and hope. Help me extend to others the same love, forgiveness, and redemption you have shown to me. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 5:43-45a
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Resources:
A Heart for God: Learning From David Through the Tough Choices of Life
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sing to the Lord

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 12:1-14:32

1 Peter 1:13-2:10
Psalm 139:11-16
 
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Focus Verses: Isaiah 12:1-5
1 In that day you will say: "I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation." 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.

Insight:
Through faith, the prophet Isaiah could see beyond the coming oppression of Assyria. He could see that though they were few in number, there were people in Israel who were faithfully looking to God, heeding his commands, and clinging to his promises.

They would one day sing a song of praise as they experienced God's salvation and deliverance. Because of his faith in God's deliverance, Isaiah pauses in his prophecy to offer up a present-tense version of the song that he believed the remnant of Israel would one day sing as they looked back at their salvation.

Response and Action:
I want to be faithful to God. Even though there are so many who reject Christ, or turn away from God, or deny truth, or abandon faith, I intend to hold on to the deliverance and salvation promised to me in Scripture and given to me through Jesus. I will sing songs of praise to God today for the hope I have in Christ for tomorrow.

O Father, you are holy and you fill the heavens. I long to see your kingdom on earth, your will lived out here as it is in heaven. I ask you to provide the bread I need for today. Forgive me and give me the grace to forgive others in the same way. Lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. You alone are King. You reign in power and glory forever. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Proverbs: 12:28
"In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality."

Resources:
Hope Has Its Reasons: The Search to Satisfy Our Deepest Longings
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Goal of Your Faith

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 10:1-11:16
1 Peter 1:1-12
Psalm 139:1-10
 
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Focus Verses: 1 Peter 1:8-9
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Insight:
Though life is filled with grief and all kinds of trials, the resurrection of Jesus gives hope and and a new way to live. Through Christ, God has promised an eternal inheritance that cannot be taken away or spoiled. Faith in God's promise and power is a shield and strength that helps us face the troubles and challenges of life. Those who persevere through the trials become purer and surer as they press on in faith. True faith produces true joy and results in true praise as we find ourselves experiencing the meaning and wholeness of what it means to be saved.

Response & Action:
Though I have not seen Jesus, I love him. Though I do not see him now, I believe him. I will live by faith in Christ and persevere through trials. I will cling to God's promises and live in the blessed hope of all he has promised in Christ. I want to be filled with joy in every circumstance. I want to see beyond the struggles of today and press on toward an eternal inheritance. I believe that God will sustain me through anything. He will use the trials I face to purify me and make me whole and real. I want to live a life that results in praise to God.

O God, by the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, lead, teach, transform, shape and strengthen me that I might delight in your will, and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Protect me from discouragement, and encourage me by your Spirit, through your word, your promises, your people, and all that is beautiful and true. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Resources:
Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in an Everyday Life
by Eugene Peterson

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Prayer of the Righteous

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 8:1-9:21
James 5:1-20
Psalm 138:1-8
 
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Focus Verses: James 5:16-18
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Insight:
Just as we humans are agents of change as we interact with the world, God is ready, willing, and able to act within the world. He is involved and participating in the story of our lives. He hears our prayers, considers them, and answers them.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of God's active response to everyday people who called out to him for help. God is not impersonal, distant, or uninvolved with his creation. He is working to save, lead, guide, help, and provide.

Response and Action:
I will pray because I believe God is present, powerful, persuadable, and personal. I believe that God is engaged and interested in his creation. I believe that God cares about what is happening in the world and in my life. I will call out to God and ask him for help, guidance, relief, strength, deliverance, and provision. I will make prayer a priority in my life. I will cultivate a regular and thoughtful pattern for daily prayer.

O God, thank you for hearing our prayers. Thank you for your grace and provision in our lives. We call out to you, Holy Father, believing that yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Resources:
The Prayer God Longs For
by James Emery White

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Reading Schedule for May 22-28


Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2015-16

Sunday, May 22 -
Isaiah 8:1-9:21 / James 5:1-20
/ Psalm 138:1-8

Monday, May 23 -
Isaiah 10:1-11:16
/ 1Peter 1:1-12 / Psalm 139:1-10

Tuesday, May 24  -
Isaiah 12:1-14:32
/ 1Peter 1:13-2:10 / Psalm 139:11-16

Wednesday, May 25  -
Isaiah 15:1-18:7
/ 1Peter 2:11-3:7 / Psalm 139:17-24

Thursday, May 26 -
Isaiah 19:1-21:17
/ 1Peter 3:8-4:6 / Psalm 140:1-5

Friday, May 27 -
Isaiah 22:1-24:23
/ 1Peter 4:7-5:14 / Psalm 140:6-13

Saturday, May 28 -
Isaiah 25:1-28:13
/ 2Peter 1:1-21 / Psalm 141:1-10

Here I Am

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 6:1-7:25
James 4:1-17
Psalm 137:1-9
 
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Isaiah 6:8-9
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" 9 He said, "Go and tell this people: 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' "

Insight:
Isaiah was overcome by a vision of God's power and holiness. He realized how sinful he was, how sinful the people of Israel had become, and how desperately they needed God's forgiveness and restoration.

God sent him to preach repentance and judgment to his people, even though God knew the people would not listen to Isaiah. They would hear, but not understand; they would see, but not perceive. Because the people would ignore Isaiah, his preaching would, in fact, harden their hearts and dull their understanding.

Isaiah asked, "How long should I preach?" God said, essentially, "Until there is no one left to preach to." Even when people fail to listen or respond, God is faithful to reach out to them and give them opportunity to wake up and turn back. Their destruction was self-imposed. They were without excuse.

Response and Action:
I want to live with a sense of God's beauty, holiness, and majesty. I will grow in my reverence for God as I humble myself in worship, prayer, and the reading of Scripture. I will acknowledge my sin and the sins of my people (my family, my church, my nation), asking God for forgiveness and restoration. I will be faithful to speak and live the truth of God even if no one listens or responds. I want to be sensitive to God's leading and have a willingness to answer his call--to do what he calls me to do, to say what he calls me to say, and to be what he calls me to be.

O God, have mercy on me. I am a person of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. You have shown your glory to us through Jesus, your Son. Help me--help us all--to find forgiveness, restoration, renewal, and purpose in Him. It's in His Name, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Ephesians 1:18-19a
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Resources:
Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day
by James Emery White

Friday, May 20, 2016

Out of the Same Mouth

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 3:1-5:30
James 2:18-3:18
Psalm 136:13-26
 
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: James 3:9-12
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Insight:
The words we choose and the things we say are very important. Having an undisciplined tongue is inconsistent with following Christ and honoring God. If hurtful and careless things flow from our mouths unchecked, it contradicts the praise we offer God, and reduces it to nothing more than lip service. A mouth that says sweet things to God should not say bitter things to those God has created and loved. Being careful to say helpful, loving, and constructive words to others is one of the best ways to praise God with our mouths.

Response and Action:
I need to recognize the importance of my words and I understand the need to choose them wisely. I must always be mindful of the connection between my words to people and my words to God. I must avoid a mental disconnect that allows me to offer words of praise to God, but then be careless or hurtful in my words to people. I will ask God for the grace and guidance I need as I make every effort to be disciplined and helpful in my speech. I will strive to honor God in the way I speak to others, not just in the words I say to God.

Dear Lord, help me to be careful about my words. Grant me the grace to be disciplined in my speech. Forgive me for the times I am thoughtless or hurtful with my mouth. Teach me to be wise in my speech, that my words would honor you as they help and bless others. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Ecclesiastes 10:12-14
12 Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. 13 At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness- 14 and the fool multiplies words. No one knows what is coming—who can tell him what will happen after him?

Resources:
The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others
by Scot McKnight

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Slow to Speak, Quick to Listen

Today's Reading:
Isaiah 1:1-2:22
James 1:19-2:17
Psalm 136:1-12
 
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: James 1:19-21
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Insight:
I've heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionately. That advice seems to go along pretty well with James' instruction. James suggests that being quick to listen and slow to speak would help us be slower to get angry. Anger––at least the kind of anger we have when we shoot off our mouths before listening––is contrary to the righteous life God desires for us and from us. We need to be serious about turning away from sin and, instead, being humble and receptive toward God's word.

Response and Action:
I want to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I need to become a better listener. I need to listen to God's leading through his word. I need to listen to what others are saying and be careful to keep my responses and my attitudes in check. Careless anger is inconsistent with seeking God and trying to please him. I will guard against it.

O God, make me an instrument of your peace. Help me to become a good listener and to use words with careful measure. Give me the grace to relate to others in loving and healthy ways. Give me a mouth that blesses and encourages. Teach me to delight in your will and to walk in your ways to the glory of your name. I pray through Christ Jesus my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  Psalm 34:11-14
11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Resources:
Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project
by Dave Isay

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Come, My Love, Let Us Go

Today's Reading:
Song of Songs 5:1-8:14
James 1:1-18
Psalm 135:13-21
 
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Focus Verses: Song of Songs 7:10-12
10 I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me. 11 Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. 12 Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom— there I will give you my love.

Insight:
Jesus teaches us that in marriage "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. What God has joined together, let no one separate" (Mark 10:7-8). In Song of Songs, this oneness is described by the voice of the beloved as "I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me."

Getting away for some time alone together is an important way couples can nurture this oneness. A weekend in the countryside, a walk in the park, a few days away at a bed and breakfast, or a day trip and picnic can do a lot to rekindle intimacy. Time alone celebrates the friendship and fans the flames of desire.

Husbands and wives need to make sure the demands of work and the daily grind of ongoing responsibilities (family, parenting, work, and home) do not reduce their relationship to a task sharing arrangement. They need to be more than committed partners in life, they need to be lovers who enjoy and desire one another.

Response and Action:
Time alone with my wife is a priority I must keep. A short time together each morning for conversation, coffee, and prayer has proven to be a real benefit to our relationship. Planning days and evenings to get away and just enjoy each other is critical to our friendship and marriage. These things don't just happen, so I will be intentional about getting ideas on the calendar. We will also be careful to choose to do things that give us the most opportunity to talk and interact with each other.

O God, thank you for my wife. Give us the wisdom to take time for each other. Thanks for days every now and then that afford us the opportunity to put the rest of life on hold. Give us hearts for each other, and give us the contentment and satisfaction that come from knowing we belong to each other, and that together we belong to you. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Hebrews 13:4 
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Resources:
Your Time-Starved Marriage: How to Stay Connected at the Speed of Life
by Dr. Les Parrott III

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Keep On Loving Each Other

Today's Reading:
Song of Songs 1:1-4:16
Hebrews 13:1-25
Psalm 135:1-12
 
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Focus Verses: Hebrews 13:1-3
1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Insight:
Love, benevolence, social justice, and empathy are all essential to living out our faith in God. We can't truly follow the way of Jesus without being loving, hospitable, and caring. Followers of Christ must have soft hearts toward those who are suffering—the marginalized, the mistreated, the foreign, the forgotten, the overlooked, and the abandoned.

Response and Action:
I want to live with Christ-like love for my Christian brothers and sisters. I want my actions and attitudes to be guided by a genuine concern and love for all people. I must open my eyes to the needs of people around me. I need to cultivate a compassion and empathy for those who are suffering or in need, and take action to help them. As I follow Christ, I want to learn how to be a helper and friend for those who are in difficult circumstances.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light. Grant that I might not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving we receive; it is in pardoning, we receive pardon; it is in giving that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 3:16-17 
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

Resources:
Practical Justice: Living Off-Center in a Self-Centered World
by Kevin Blue

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Conclusion of the Matter

Today's Reading:
Ecclesiastes 10:1-12:14
Hebrews 12:14-29
Psalm 134:1-3
 
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Focus Verses: Ecclesiastes 12:12b-14
12b Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. 13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Insight:
The "Teacher" of Ecclesiastes (Solomon, perhaps?) does his best to assess and illuminate the human experience. He honestly and humbly acknowledges that from his human point of view he is only able to study within the observable limitations of what is "under the sun" and what happens between birth and death.

No matter how hard he tries to make sense of life, and reduce it to simple and predictable equations, he cannot. Ultimately, the only wise conclusion he can reach is: the meaning of life is beyond human understanding. He concludes that living within God's commands, with reverence and humility before God, is the only wise course for life. Purpose, hope, and meaning are not to be found in human activity or analysis, but rather through faith in God.

Response and Action:
The meaning and purpose of life are beyond my understanding. Attempts to find an explanation of life small enough to fit within the limits of human knowledge and experience are sure to fail. I will put my faith in God. My faith and humility for God will guide me and sustain me as I ask questions, seek wisdom, work hard, and do my best to enjoy life. My limited understanding of life does not diminish my faith in God; it reinforces my need for God.

O God, help me to trust in you with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding. In all my ways—in every aspect of my life—teach me to acknowledge you. Direct my path and make my way straight. Cause my faith to grow stronger each day that I might enjoy the life you have given me, and live with contentment, purpose, and hope. Through Christ, who has become my wisdom, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  1 Corinthians 1:20-21
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Resources:
Can Man Live without God?
by Ravi Zacharias